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by Haider Rizvi

As Rice's Iran Strategy Fizzles, Cheney Waits in Wings

(IPS) UNITED NATIONS -- Tensions between Iran and Western powers rose to new heights Saturday as the United Nations Security Council passed a resolution imposing sanctions on the Islamic Republic for its nuclear activities.

Unanimously adopted by all 15 members of the Council, the resolution bans the supply of nuclear-related technology and materials and imposes an asset freeze on key individuals and companies. It demands that Tehran end all uranium enrichment work, which produces fuel for nuclear energy plants, and potentially for weapons.

The vote comes after weeks of tough diplomatic negotiations among the five permanent members of the council, the United States, Russia, Britain, France and China.

Sponsored by Britain, France and Germany, the resolution was amended several times after objections from the Russians and Chinese. They agreed to back the resolution after sections dealing with the freezing of assets abroad of specific Iranian individuals and organisations were watered down.

Under Chapter VII of Article 41 of the UN Charter, the resolution makes Iranian compliance obligatory but does not include the threat of military action. However, sponsors said the resolution sent a warning that there would be serious repercussions if Tehran fails to comply.

"Iran's nuclear program poses a serious threat to international peace and security," said acting U.S. Ambassador Alejandro Wolff. "It must come back to compliance." Describing the resolution as a "strong message", he warned Iran of further diplomatic actions against its defiant behaviour.

In response, Iranian Ambassador Javad Zarif accused the United States and its allies of pursuing a policy of "double standards" and called the sanctions "an instrument of pressure to compel Iran to abandon the exercise of its Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty guaranteed right to peaceful nuclear technology."

In a statement, Iran's foreign ministry spokesman, Mohammad Ali Hosseini, condemned the resolution as illegal. Tehran has repeatedly said its nuclear programme is meant for peaceful purposes, but the U.S. and its allies doubt its intentions.

Last July, after long and complicated negotiations, the Security Council adopted another resolution calling for immediate suspension of uranium-related activities, but Iran refused to comply. The Iranian leadership argues that it is the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), not the Security Council, which should deal with such matters.

The IAEA, which is responsible for monitoring compliance with the international nuclear non-proliferation regime, has strongly objected to the Iranian decision to reopen its uranium-related activities, but has never said that the Iranian nuclear programme is aimed at making weapons.

Both Russia and China, which have close economic and military ties with Tehran, justified their vote in favor of the resolution by saying that it would build confidence between Iran and the international community and emphasised that sanctions were meant to urge Iran to return to negotiations.

Describing the resolution as "a logical conclusion" of Iran's refusal to suspend its uranium enrichment activity, the Russian ambassador Vitaly Churkin said he hoped Iran would respond to the Council "constructively".

"We have very, very good relations with Iran. I hope they will cooperate with the international community," he said.

The Chinese ambassador Wang Guangya had similar comments.

"Dialogue and negotiations are the only way," he told the Council. The Chinese envoy, however, shared the Iranian position on the role of the IAEA. "The Security Council cannot handle Iran's nuclear issue single-handedly," he said. "The IAEA remains the main mechanism for dealing with this issue."

Commenting on the resolution, the Iranian ambassador said the IAEA "repeatedly verified that Iran fully suspended what it had agreed to suspend in each and every report from November 2003 to February 2006", adding that the U.S. and its allies never tried to approach Iran with a serious compromise.

In its resolution, the Council welcomed "the commitments of six parties, which includes the U.S., Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China, to a negotiated solution to this issue and encourages Iran to engage their proposals for a long-term comprehensive agreement which would allow for the development of relations and cooperation with Iran based on mutual respect."

That requires "all-round" diplomatic effort, said the Chinese ambassador, including efforts to resolve the issue "outside the Security Council".

In defending Tehran's position, the Iranian envoy questioned the Security Council's inaction over Israel's nuclear programme. Israel is believed to posses an arsenal of 300 to 400 nuclear weapons, and recently the Israeli prime minister implicitly acknowledged that his country was armed with such weapons.

"The reaction of the council to the Israeli regime's unlawful possession of nuclear weapons will show either the council is acting, or whether it is merely a tool in the toolbox of a few of its permanent members, who only misuse it to fix their foreign policy problems and to serve their shortsighted perceived interests, " Zarif said.

Asked to comment on Iranian concerns over Israel's nuclear weapons, the U.S. envoy said: "We are dealing today with Iran."

The issue of Israeli possession of nuclear weapons and the Arab nations' demand for the establishment a nuclear-free zone in the Middle East also came up during the final press conference of outgoing UN chief Kofi Annan.

When asked how this would affect the political atmosphere in the Middle East, Annan said he was concerned about the fact that many governments in the region were planning to explore nuclear development. "What I am worried about is we may see competitive development of these devices," he said. "We need to take efforts to ensure that we don't get into that situation."

Unlike Iran, Israel is not a signatory to the UN treaty on nuclear non-proliferation.

In its resolution, the Council asked the IAEA director to submit a report within 60 days on whether Iran has established full and sustained suspension of all "nuclear proliferation-sensitive" activities.

According to some provisions of the resolution, the Security Council shall lift the sanctions if Iran suspended its enrichment-related activities and complied with the relevant Security Council resolutions and IAEA requirements.

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Albion Monitor   December 23, 2006   (

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